Intellectualism and sentimentalism

Posted on January 27, 2013
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Liturgy makes the most sense to me when it is described as no more or less spiritual than self discipline:

Good liturgy and ritual guides and shapes our emotions into fitting responses to God’s self-revelation. An approach to worship focused on undisciplined spontaneity and individual self-expression can be problematic on this front, as the emotions can become feral. One of the benefits of singing and praying lots of psalms is that they are full of spiritually formed emotion. As we bring our emotion to them, our emotions are shaped by them. Our emotions are not crushed, but are house-trained. Such training is especially valuable for a society that can often be emotionally incontinent.

I  am not convinced, however, that emotional self-discipline must occur in a liturgical framework, or that it possible to remove the self-selection and self-definition from liturgy that inject it with self-worship. Alistair’s later points on the breadth of expression in the Psalms is pertinent here: scripture itself is not subject to intellectualism or sentimentalism, and so does not need correction or framing by liturgy. One who looks and listens may discover a liturgy in what God has done in the seasons of life.

On the whole, however, Alistair does a fine job explaining why sentimentalist theology can’t be the antidote to intellectualist theology, despite that turn of the popular pendulum.

By contrast, true worship is designed to produce the sort of deeply rooted passion that is fixed upon and committed to God. This sort of committed love is manifested primarily in action rather than in sentiment. A person who truly loves will manifest a commitment to the object of that love over many years in the ways that they act towards and concerning it. This love will generally be extremely understated by comparison to sentimentalism, which is pure surface and display.

Disability Theology

Posted on January 23, 2013
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Interesting discussion over at Alistair’s on disability in theology.

Doesn’t the Christian religion hold out hope of ultimate healing? Doesn’t God promise physical restoration to those who have faith in his righteousness? Don’t we, as people of God, long for the day “when there will be no mourning, nor death, nor crying, nor pain?” Insofar as this vision seeks to give a glimpse of a new creation, reconciled to God, where we are in full communion with each other and with Triune Being, than I can only heartily affirm such an idea. But lurking beneath such a portrait is something that is far more troubling. It is the erasure of the past, and the elimination of disability as a means of living well before God.

Surfeit

Posted on January 13, 2013
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My complaint (for everything from me must be either a complaint or a critique) is simple:  a surplus of luxury.

I have been feeling mopey for, oh, months anyway, and can’t seem to shake it. I thought if I enrolled in an MBA program I would be challenged and burdened enough to keep my preoccupied, but no; I fit that into my schedule without difficulty. I thought that if I exercised more regularly that would improve my mood. Well, perhaps I am still not exercising enough (who ever does), but I am doing well enough that I am reacquainted with that wonderful light ache of a well-used muscle. It’s a pleasant feeling of accomplishment, of fulfilled purpose even, and secondarily it is pleasant to be aware of one’s muscles. It strokes the vanity. But for all that, it’s an ephemeral pleasure and not the cure I was looking for.

I am the victim of my own success. I was trying to balance a life of work in North Carolina, friends in Pennsylvania, and family in New York. I could manage two but the three were overwhelming, and I found an opportunity to reduce all that down to one. It was not a natural opportunity, and I only exploited it through divine intervention, but now here I am with work and family comfortably co-located. I am once again showing up in family pictures in the mix of siblings. I took a long walk today with several brothers, returning home to a dinner that appeared without any effort on my part, as it always does these days. Such a relief from the trial of finding my own food! A battle I too often surrendered before.

I have long considered an MBA program because it fits so well into the current trajectory of my career, but when I was too taxed to reliably find my supper I thought it unwise to add academic responsibilities on to that. I am aware that others have overcome greater obstacles to achieve their MBA, and better things than that. Surely, it would not have been exceptional for me to enroll in an MBA program when I was living on my own. But it is so very much more convenient this way.

I am apologizing – I don’t know if you can tell, but I am – I am apologizing for how easy my life is. I am already earning comfortably above the median household income for the area in which I live, and on track to increase that, meanwhile not paying much concern to where my dinner comes from or most any other domestic responsibilities. I am ensconced in the support of my family and still almost completely free to do as I please. It is a ridiculously easy life that I live.

I am sorry to say that I am not completely content with this life. Sorry because I know it is an insult to many in this county, state, and country, let alone the world, for me to find anything lacking in my pacific lifestyle, and sorry because, not being content, I am feeling sorry for myself. I don’t know what to do about it. Oh, it would be easy enough to find some poor people to patronize; someone I can visit, and bestow my charity upon, and marvel at their poverty of means or comforts. But visiting charity is the drug of the affluent. It can bolster a sense of wealth and virtue and accomplishment, but it does not actually cure the poverty of the soul that inspired the search for a cure. Love and truth come in relationships that are more taxing than that.

I have so much. I am surfeit of all but gratitude. Friend, will you teach me gratitude?

It Must All Equal Zero

Posted on January 9, 2013
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A considerable part of my job is reading the tea leaves to determine why our market share is what it is and what it is likely to do next. We calculate our market share by submitting our sales and getting aggregated totals back. There are various details to this information, but to maintain confidentiality of contributing members’ specific information a lot of the details are deliberately hard to connect. As part of this deliberate ambiguity, we can tell what was produced at the factories and what was sold to customers, but we cannot link the two directly. For some purposes we report factory share and for some purposes we report customer share.

Throughout this year a gap has opened up between our factory share and our customer share. Ordinarily the difference is not hard to explain; units produced but not sold are generally in stock in someone’s inventory. It’s a simple concept and it more or less has to be true (although there is always the possibility of reporting errors, and there are several different kinds of inventory that may not easily follow the reporting guidelines).

I am aware of this straightforward explanation and made use of it in November and December. It’s getting somewhat threadbare now. It’s not really adequate to explain what’s been going on. So today I started checking into our numbers to see if there was something going wrong on our side.

The actual collection of our numbers and the hand-off with the trade association that compiles the numbers is not part of my responsibility. I generally make use of the numbers as provided. When I went diving into the numbers looking for problems I was excited to quickly find a discrepancy. I was almost sure I had found the explanation!

Problem was the discrepancy I found was a bit too large. When I checked with some other number-keepers they confidently told me that my numbers did not represent reality. But now I had to decide whether I had gathered my numbers incorrectly or the numbers were simply wrong. I thought of a way to test the numbers and just like that, I had my evidence that the numbers were wrong. Good stuff! I love finding an explanation!

But with acquired caution I sent my results to be verified by the official number-maker, and he promptly replied, explaining that the reason I was getting unbalanced results was that half the time our system stores sales orders as numbers and the other half as text. It’s bizarre, it’s pointless, it’s bad data management, but it is the way it is. Correcting for this oddity would reduce my imbalance.

Only it didn’t. After I transformed all the numbers to text to permit matching I increased the discrepancy, quite substantially. The discrepancy I now “uncovered” was larger than the original problem I started with. An investigation begun in the morning was now extending well into the afternoon.

I found that several other fields I thought were stable could actually change during the life of the order, including the identity of the customer. These changes were all reflected progressively in my record set, so that one order could appear several times. As anyone who works with databases knows, once a record appears more than once it tends to multiply like a rabbit. I had more than one rabbit. It took a while to hunt them all down.

By the time I got done sorting out all the incorrect relationships it was nearly quitting time. I checked my number one last time, noted it, and realized, like one waking from a dream, that I had lost all sense of context. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do next; I forgot what I was doing before I got sidetracked making sure I was doing it right.

It was one of the more interesting days I’ve had of late. I did some thinking, and then improved on the thinking. A satisfying day.

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